Thought solar was out of your reach? Think again

The solar array atop the Lennox Hotel. (supplied)

Have you thought of getting solar? There have been a number of barriers that have limited the opportunity for some section of the community to take it up from renting, your roof just doesn’t get the sun or the prices just don’t add up to install it on your own roof.

Well now is your chance to look again. Byron Shire is one of five areas in Australia that has been selected to take part in a feasibility study to see if it could be a suitable location for a solar garden.

What is a solar garden?

A solar garden is a centralised solar array that offers consumers the opportunity to purchase or lease solar panels with the electricity generated credited to the customer’s energy bill. Basically you can own or lease solar powers on someone else’s roof or in some other location that help lower your bills.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has announced funding for a feasibility study that could allow the third of Australians who rent, live in apartments or live in low income housing to access the benefits of rooftop solar.

On behalf of the Australian Government, ARENA is providing $240,000 to the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute of Sustainable Futures (ISF) to undertake a feasibility study on ‘solar gardens’, a popular concept in the United States that is yet to be introduced in Australia.

The $555,000 project brings together energy retailers, councils, community energy agencies, social welfare organisations and the NSW Government to examine the viability of a solar garden in five potential locations – Blacktown in western Sydney, Swan Hill in northwest Victoria, Townsville in North Queensland, Shoalhaven and Byron Bay in New South Wales.

The study aims to consider both consumer demand and feasibility, and identify barriers to adoption.

Enormous potential

Byron Shire Mayor, Simon Richardson said, ‘This project has enormous potential for residents of the Byron Shire, particularly those who can’t afford to install solar panels, or where solar panels aren’t suitable and its very exciting to be selected to be a part of this feasibility study.’

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said initiatives such as this are an important step in giving the consumer more options when it comes to their energy bills.

‘Solar gardens have been popular in the US, with the fast growing market seeing 200 MW of shared solar gardens already in operation.’

‘Almost a third of Australians are unable to put solar on their roofs because they are renting, live in apartments or live in low income housing. Solar gardens give consumers the benefits of rooftop solar, even if you don’t have a roof available to put it on,’ Mr Frischknecht said.

‘We’re excited to be supporting the feasibility into a concept that will allow people from all backgrounds and living circumstances to benefit from renewable energy,’ he said.

Highlighting the opportunity for local Byron Shire residents mayor Richardson said are that the shire is ‘proudly supportive of renewable energy and sustainability and here is a chance for people who don’t have a lot of money to buy in to solar energy, so I am not only thrilled, but very excited to see the results of the feasibility study.’

‘Even better is the fact that our local community energy group COREM is also involved in this study and together we will be investigating potential sites for this solar garden.’

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